It was also the world's first commercial payload in space, developed by Bell Telephone Laboratories for AT&T, a NASA release explained Tuesday.
Two days after its launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., it relayed the world's first transatlantic television signal from Andover Earth Station, Maine, to the Pleumeur-Bodou Telecom Center in Brittany, France.
The first images included those of President John F. Kennedy and of singer Yves Montand from France, along with clips of sporting events, images of the American flag waving in the breeze and a still image of Mount Rushmore.
Although it remained operational for only a few months and relayed television signals of very brief duration, it paved the way for the kind of global communications taken for granted today, NASA said.
Telstar relayed more than 400 telephone, telegraph, facsimile and television transmissions as it operated until November 1962 when its on-board electronics failed due to the effects of radiation.